Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
The writers of Peachtree Hoops sit down to give their thoughts on the upcoming season for the Atlanta Hawks.
Welcome to a new article series we're introducing to Peachtree Hoops called the Squawk Box. As the Band of Hawks Brother Bloggers has grown to seven, we wanted to provide ways for the diversity of Hawks opinions to be collated in one place. This plus an upcoming video chat series will start to fill the void.
So, before we get into our season preview edition, a couple of things:
1. Feel free to send us questions that you'd like everyone to answer and we'll get it into queue.
2. Feel free to do better than Squawk Box as a working title.
Now to the questions:
1. Which of our offseason acquisitions will make the biggest impact on the 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks?
Kris Willis: Without a doubt Lou Williams. Despite coming off the bench, he is going to play a ton of minutes at both guard positions and will have ample opportunities with the ball in his hands.
Jason Walker: It has to be Lou Williams, given that he will have the biggest role to fill -- the replacement of Joe Johnson. In reality, the role he is closer to filling is the one vacated by Jamal Crawford before last season -- an off the bench, 30 min a game or so, scorer who can create by himself or get the ball in motion. He'll also increase the offenses efficiency given his higher free throw rate. Additionally, like Crawford, he'll be a fan favorite very quickly.
Hawk Str8Talk: With 9 new players, there's a lot to choose from, which means Danny Ferry already is the easy answer, so we'll move from overall impact to on the court impact. Who will have the biggest impact? Lou Williams. Who should? Still Lou Williams, but if he's not being pushed by John Jenkins at some point - our scouting department needs to be re-evaluated.
William Sevidal: I doubt any Hawks player can make a bigger impact than what Danny Ferry has done so far as a GM, but let's exclude him in this discussion. When talking about who will make the biggest impact on the court, I have to go with Lou Williams. When a team loses their #1 nightly offensive threat, you kind of need to replace that. Lou Williams has been a 20+ points per game scorer on a per 36 minute basis the past two seasons, and I believe that he'll make it three straight seasons.
Evildallas: Lou Williams - I think several newcomers will play major roles, but I see Lou Williams in at crunch time and willing to take the shot when the game is on the line.
Throw: This is tough since there were a lot of new acquisitions that range from drafting to trading, but I will take the safe answer and go with Lou Williams. The guy is a playmaker, can score and most importantly get to the line and draw fouls unlike many jump-shot happy guards we have in the past that cannot get to the line.
Robby Kalland: Lou is the easy choice, but I'm going to go with Kyle Korver. Kyle's already become a vocal leader on and off the floor, and is a great asset for our young shooters like Morrow and Jenkins. He has one of the best basketball I.Q.'s, not to mention the way he spreads the floor for pick-and-rolls and can drill three's if offered any daylight.
2. Who will be the MVP for the 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks?
KW: It's a contract year for Josh Smith so I expect him to be extra motivated and to turn in his best season yet. He will be out to prove to the Hawks and the rest of the NBA that he is capable of leading a team.
JW: Josh Smith will repeat for the MVP title this season. He is filling out into his prime and is at the top of his game in all areas. We'll see how the motion offense impacts Smith's numbers but, in theory, the proposed/projected faster pace should mean more possessions per game for the Hawks, which will likely raise all of Smith's numbers to career highs -- and a likely first All-Star appearance for Josh.
HS8T: This is probably counterintuitive, but there's a gut feel call to this in saying that it will not be Josh Smith. There's no doubt that Josh is the most TALENTED player on this team and it's not really close, but with Joe Johnson out of the way and Josh Smith and Jeff Teague not signed beyond this season - I expect this season to setup perfectly for Al Horford to assume the leadership mantle he's nibbled at for a few years now. Time for the anticipated increased usage to show on and off the court why Horford is the most valuable of all Hawks.
WS: Everyone expects Josh Smith to be the MVP, and deservedly so. He is the most talented player on the team, and he probably has the biggest chip on his shoulder. He's playing on an expiring contract, and he's looking to make his first All-star appearance. Normally on past seasons, all eyes are focused pretty evenly on Johnson, Horford, and Smith, but this season, most of the focus is going to be on if Josh Smith can handle being the "#1 guy". My guess is that he'll answer that with an All-Star spot and an All-NBA Third Team spot.
ED: Josh Smith - I'm hoping for bigger roles from Al and Jeff, but I'm confident that Josh embraces the mantle of leader and steps up his game to another level this year.
T: I hate to sound cliché but it is gonna have to be Josh. If he can play last year when Joe went down and be a stat-stuffer and play under control like he did, then it's hard to not go with him. I hope to see him get a couple triple-doubles and maybe even some 5x5.
RK: Jeff Teague. Teague's being handed the reins this year with Joe gone and will be the primary ball handler. It will be his job to get the offense running properly and he should thrive in pick-and-rolls. His ability to steal the ball can jump start our fast break game, and he will be the centerpiece of LD's motion system to ensure the ball moves to open shots.
3. Who will be the X factor for this Atlanta Hawks team?
KW: This team's X factor this season is a healthy Al Horford. Atlanta somehow won 40 games during the regular season last year despite Horford only appearing in 11 games. Al should see more opportunities this season and should once again remind everyone just how well rounded his game is.
JW: I said Williams on our video preview and, while Teague is an appealing answer, I'm going to stand by Lou as my answer. I think we know what we'll get from Teague, but how will Williams fills the role I prescribed above will go a long way to determining how successful the Hawks will be this season. If Williams is able to maintain his level of efficiency established in Philadelphia, then the Hawks are in good shape. If he struggles to find his groove in the ATL, it will leave a large offensive hole in the team.
HS8T: I'll save my real X factor for the biggest concern question, so I'm using my 2nd choice here and that's Jeff Teague as the piece that will cause a sink or swim season for this team. We don't know who Jeff Teague is yet, which is the definition of a X factor. If he's inconsistent Jeff, the team must assess its future with a PG in a PG-dominated league who isn't at least your 4th best player, but if he's pushing Al and Jeff as the best, most consistent players on this team - there's no doubt that an extension and solid core to build upon are in the offing. Everyone else on the team (short of the rookies) are who they are - we don't know who Jeff is yet. No time like the present to find out...
WS: There are quite a handful of Hawks players that can make or break the season based on their production, so this is a hard question; however, I believe that the fate and this team will go as far as Al Horford and Josh Smith takes them. I have no doubts that Josh Smith will gladly take the responsibility of being the "team leader" and step up his production, but I do have questions on whether Al Horford will. Horford has the skill-set to be an All-Star (again), but it boils down to how Larry Drew will utilize him and if Horford has the willingness to put the team on his shoulders.
ED: DeShawn Stevenson/Kyle Korver - assuming that they are the starting wings, I submit them as the X factor pair. DeShawn will need to produce enough offensively to keep his defense in the lineup. Kyle will have perform well enough on defense to keep his sharpshooting on the floor. If both can meet their respective challenges the Hawks have a chance to be a lot better.
T: As much as I want to say Jeff Teague, I think he will be okay since he has a veteran player and teammate in Devin Harris that can help him grow. The X-Factor to me for has to be Larry Drew. Drew is coming into his final year he is going to have a heck of a job rotating the logjam of guards on this team. With Joe gone, we will now see if Joe was holding him back and if he can successfully get his team to play "up-tempo" like he claims to have wanted. Needless to say this may be Drew's final hurrah as the ATL coach and he has to prove himself, and unlike Teague if Drew fails I can't imagine he has many places to go.
RK: Breaking the rules here and giving two. Ivan and Zaza. Both provide some nasty off the bench on a smaller "softer" team. They play physical, bring intensity and energy at all times, and will be huge in allowing Josh and Al to stay fresh all season for when we need them down the stretch. If those two can help out the offense, this team's second unit can be very dangerous.
4. What is your biggest concern for this Atlanta Hawks going into this season?
KW: I have two. One is well advertised and that is how will this Hawks team defend the perimeter and in particular some of the gifted small forwards in the league. A lot is going to fall on the shoulders of Josh Smith and Al Horford as well as new acquisition DeShawn Stevenson. Second, last season the team gelled very quickly despite plenty of new faces that made up the second unit. Can this team find similar success and chemistry?
JW: It will be how will all these new pieces/parts fit together and will they actually be as efficient/successful as they look on paper? It's one thing to look at all the numbers and say that this team won't be far off from the team that won at a 50 win pace last season -- it's another to actually go on the court and make that happen for real. Many folks have bought into the meme that this is a sneaky efficient team that should still win 45+ games (myself included) without seeing any proof of it on the court as yet.
HS8T: My biggest concerns are 1A - Larry Drew and 1B - playing the season as if we are contending for a title. I never had any concern about the Hawks as a playoff participant with Drew as our coach, but have always had major concerns about his ability to prepare a team for the grind of the season and to have them ready for a playoff run. Those fears have been largely founded based on 2 seasons of the Drew era, so it's doubly concerning that Drew isn't the right coach to mesh 9 new faces with the 5 old ones to create an offense and defense that establishes an identity for this team. Particularly when he hasn't embraced 3 of those 5 old faces (Teague, Pachulia, I. Johnson) and one who prior to the Ferry hire was prepared to leave the organization (Smith). I'll have my eye on this issue all season, but that said - it's as much of a concern that the Hawks will attempt to win every game possible to the exclusion of a development plan for the players who need minutes to grow into the players we need them to be beyond 2013. Hard to expect that there will be cohesion and chemistry with a lame duck coach and SIX new players with expiring contracts and 4 veteran players with expiring unrestricted and restricted contracts - oh, and a rookie contract that's not guaranteed (Scott). To make it simple, the only players guaranteed to come back next year are: Horford, Williams, and Jenkins. Oy vey!
WS: Balance and how minutes will be divided. They say the more depth you have, the better it is...but is it the case here? The Hawks are stacked with a lot of players that either have similar size or similar skill-sets (or both). How will Larry Drew divide minutes and how creative can he be? For the most part, I like what Danny Ferry has done for this team thus far, but I'm not sure if he did Larry Drew any favors when it comes to figuring out who plays and who doesn't. The team is filled with players that are similar to each other
ED: Length - We have talented bigs, but historically they've had trouble against long teams on both ends of the floor. Several teams have gotten longer in the post. If we struggle to rebound, we'll struggle to run. If we struggle to run then we'll be reliant on a unproven half-court offense.
T: The normal answer I have is teams that have size but the biggest concern I have is pretty obvious, our lack of size on defense on the wing at the SG and SF position. I'm really scared at what is going to happen when we play a team with a larger SG (Joe Johnson) or a team with decent SF like the obvious of LeBron but even players like Granger might scare me. My guess is we will go with the big lineup and Stevenson at the 2 if it comes down to us needing defense.
RK: Defending the Wing. The East has the best 3s outside of KD. LeBron, Carmelo, Granger, Pierce, and more all can flat out ball and we don't have one lockdown defender with the combo of size, length and strength to deal with them. DeShawn and Smoove will take turns guarding them, but we have to find a way to limit the damage when those guys are on the other bench.
5. What is your prediction for this team, record-wise and (if appropriate) playoff seed?
KW: I have defensive concerns but I feel that the return of Al Horford and the acquisition of Lou Williams offsets the loss of Joe Johnson. Factor in the long distance shooting of players like Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow and you have the makings of a scary offensive team. If they can figure out how to make things work defensively without falling to the bottom of the league then I don't think there will be a big slip in the standings. My prediction: 44-47 wins and a 5th or 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
JW: 47-35, 5th in the conference -- Based on the premise that Smith, Al Horford and Teague should be enough to make the playoffs and adding Williams and the Proven Shooters will augment them enough to get to that number
HS8T: Call me pessimistic, but re-read my concerns. As much as I'd like to think it's addition by subtraction, but I have a hard time believing that the team who has 11 players and the head coach playing for contracts is going to be on the same page long enough to jell and do anything of consequence. Too many ideal things have to happen - Smith, Stevenson, Johnson all have to be on good behavior - defense has to come from somewhere, size has to be overrated, Drew has to be a great coach, health must be pristine, etc. So, 40-42 and a 8th seed. (And if we're that close to not being in the playoffs, I'm praying we actually miss the playoffs and take our chances in the Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and NBA lotteries).
WS: I usually over-shoot this prediction, so I'll go with a less optimistic one. 45-37 record, grabbing the 5th seed. That's still a pretty good season, but let's hope that this time, I actually underrated the Hawks
ED: I'm bullish. I think this team fits together a lot better than previous rosters. I'm calling 52-30, 2nd in the East behind Miami.
T: I'm going to be optimistic and say the Hawks might surprise some people with their speed in the backcourt, the number of shooters, and also we have mobile bigs in Al and Josh. But I'll guess and say 47-35 at 4th in the east with another possible first round matchup against Boston. It will take some time for this team to mesh, but I don't think it will take too much time with the amount of veterans on this squad.
RK: 44-38. 5th seed in the East.